Among the upper, educated classes, the French stories clearly circulated freely, but the development of a vernacular tradition was seriously hindered by what was for many years the depressed status of the English language. (I had vivid experience of this myself, years ago, while working on medieval London. I came across an early fourteenth-century case in the city courts which used French. An English clothes-dealer and his Welsh friend had been fined for causing a fracas in a brothel, whereupon they made a habit of standing at the roadside and neighing like horses whenever the aldermen rode by! Rebuked, they replied with ribald snorts of 'Trrphut! Trrphut!' (perhaps the first recorded raspberry?) — described as a rude 'English' expression!)— Gwyn A. Williams, Excalibur: The Search for Arthur (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1994), 161
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The UK continued to hold the detainees in Cyprus until January 1949 when it formally recognized the State of Israel.
Aranne's daughter, Ella, told the AP that the experience remained a pivotal part of his life for years afterward.
"It was one of the most important things of his life. He wasn't a big storyteller, but he'd happily tell schoolchildren about it," she said.
"The Exodus influenced him and his friends deeply. Those were the days that defined them and as far as they were concerned defined the character of this country."
From 1993 until his death, he lived in a house built like a ship, with rooms in a row and a faux mast and huge windows providing a view of the Mediterranean.
He lived in the house alone since the death of his wife, Irene, in 2001.
Aranne's funeral is scheduled for Friday in northern Israel. He is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and a 2-year-old great-grandson.
Update: a sampling of additional coverage
• Margalit Fox, "Yitzhak Ahronovitch, Exodus Skipper in Defiant '47 Voyage of Jewish Refugees, Dies at 86, NY Times, 23 Dec.
• Naama Lanir, "Captain of refugee ship 'Exodus' dies," Ynet, 23 Dec.
• Eli Ashkenazi, "Captain of Exodus dies at 86," Haaretz, 24 Dec.
• Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, "Leon Uris 'Exodus' novel had nothing to do with reality, skipper said," Jerusalem Post, 26 Dec.
•"Yitzhak Aharonovitch: captain of the Holocaust survivor ship Exodus," Sunday Times, 30 Dec.
technology was in the saddle of a horse named Fear in a race of human folly
A miscellaneous selection of notable, quotable phrases (drawn mostly from writings about history, politics, or culture), new or old, as serendipity or whim may dictate.
Here's one for a start:
Bloom has summed up his approach to these situations as "dentist-chair bargaining"—in which the patient 'grabs the dentist by the balls and says, 'Now let's not hurt each other.'"—from Noam Scheiber's portrait of the Obama administration's Ron Bloom, and his technique for tough negotiating in order to save jobs and industries in the face of management's efforts to cut losses by cutting jobs and closing factories: "Manufacturing Bloom: The proletarian schlub who might just save American industry," The New Republic, 2 Dec. 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I am shocked and outraged by the theft of a recognizable symbol of Nazi cynicism and cruelty," President Lech Kaczynski said in a statement.Authorities now believe that the motive was not antisemtism on the part of neo-Nazis or similar groups, and instead, a simple theft, though the specific motives behind the latter remain unclear.
"Everything must be done to find and punish the offenders... and I appeal to all my compatriots who can help the law-enforcement authorities."
Friday, December 18, 2009
Polish police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said local authorities believed the sign was stolen between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., when museum guards noticed that it was missing and alerted the police.
Padlo added that the iron sign, which spanned a gate at the main entrance to the former Nazi death camp, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other.
The daily Gazeta Wyborcza said on its website that the museum authorities had already installed a replica sign over the gate that had been used briefly a few years ago when the original was being repaired.
"This [theft] is very saddening," Gazeta Wyborcza quoted Jaroslaw Mensfelt, the museum's spokesman, as saying.
"The thieves either didn't know where they were or -- what's even worse -- they did know but that didn't prevent them from stealing."
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Full coverage to follow.
West Cemetery, Amherst’s oldest, includes not only the Dickinson family plot, a frequent destination for Emily Dickinson devotees, but also an early African-American burying area, and the graves of some of Amherst’s earliest settlers. New signs have been designed and will be fabricated and installed to introduce visitors to the cemetery.
Irving Slavid, President of MCC, said “I have worked in historic cemeteries for over 15 years and the West cemetery in Amherst has more visitors than any cemetery we have worked in. Apart from local visitors, we also met people from all over the country and some from Europe. I remember an Italian couple making the journey to see Emily without speaking English. These travelers were devoted. People coming in by car or parking in town and walking through the cemetery, mostly all coming to visit Emily. Some stayed for a fair amount of time.”
In 2006, muralist David Fichter and local artists created the Amherst Community History Mural, which depicts historical Amherst figures along the back wall of the Amherst Carriage Shops overlooking the cemetery. Additional signs will describe the mural for visitors to the cemetery, and brochures describing the images and personalities depicted in the mural are available at the site.
Restoration of the cemetery is still incomplete. Additional CPA funding has been approved for repairs to the town tomb, ironwork around several family plots, and for additional landscape restoration. This year, older areas of the cemetery were re-seeded with native plants including lupine and forget-me-not, and were left unmowed, to begin to recreate the meadow that would have been characteristic of the area in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These plantings are being installed with help from members of the Alpha Tau Gamma fraternity of the Stockbridge School at the University of Massachusetts, and generous contributions from the Hadley Garden Center.
Members of the Historical Commission expressed concern that a few of the restored headstones have already been the victims of new vandalism. Under normal conditions, repairs should last anywhere from twenty to fifty years. Members of the Historical Commission continue to discuss additional safety measures that might better protect the cemetery, the mural, and the headstones, both those already repaired and others that will be restored in an upcoming project.
For further information, please contact Jim Wald, Chair of the Amherst Historical Commission (jjwald at comcast.net) or Jonathan Tucker, Director of Planning (TuckerJ at amherstma.gov)
In the photo above: Jim Wald, Chairman of the Amherst Historical Commission and Jonathan Tucker, Director of Planning, examine the recently repaired headstone of Aaron Warner who died in 1774. The Aaron Warner House on West Street has been nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
At Hampshire, a student and his college come of age
By Daily Hampshire Gazette
Created 12/02/2009 - 05:00
"I write about a time when reckless irresponsibility ceased to be an acceptable lifestyle, and American culture became more serious, self-conscious and self-absorbed," writes Hampshire College graduate Richard Rushfield in his new book, "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the '80s" (Gotham Books).
Think about that statement for a few minutes, and you gradually, grudgingly, realize that this man has a wicked sense of humor. He skewers every person and every philosophy he encountered during his undergraduate years at Hampshire College (1986-'91), but he is also unsparing in his self-criticism. The resulting story is a coming-of-age tale for both the experimental college and for one particularly insecure, observant youth.
Rushfield, who lives in Venice, Calif., will read from his memoir Monday at his alma mater. It's a book that combines the journalistic accuracy and sense of place in Tracy Kidder's non-fictional "Hometown" with the drug-crazed, neurotic characters and adventures in Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." #
Young Rushfield came to the Pioneer Valley from that other "valley" - southern California. In his book, he describes Hampshire College as "a self-conscious experiment in education by the four major schools located in the idyllic western Massachusetts wilderness of the Pioneer Valley ¿ a laboratory free of the constraints of the established schools ¿ with the boldness to traipse down the paths its stodgy neighbors feared to tread." He claims that by the time he started school there, the experiment had turned into a nightmare of loosely drifting "misfits and malcontents from around the globe."
He also admits that his prime reason for attending the school was the promise of a single room in the dormitory.
Rushfield thought Hampshire would be similar to his former Los Angeles high school ¿ "a liberally oriented school cloistered from reality" where he hung with a crowd he describes as "revival-movie-going, Cole Porter-reciting, self-styled intelligentsia ¿"
But, once on campus, he felt sorely out of place. A sadistic dorm supervisor scorned him for being a "first-year"; a non-politically-correct essay earned him revulsion on his first day in the class "From Mark Twain to Miami Vice: Images of the American Male in Popular Culture"; he felt mocked by campus hippies for his inexperience with women and his rejection of marijuana.
"Pot was to Hampshire College what basketball was to Notre Dame, calculus to MIT. ¿ In the following years, never would I pass a day without being asked for or offered marijuana," he writes. "Perhaps the biggest handicap I had brought to Hampshire, the thing that made me totally unsuited to survive in this ecosystem, was my aversion to marijuana."
Eventually, Rushfield found friends who shared his taste in alcohol, pills and cocaine. His nihilistic tendencies, just budding when he defaced all the doors in his dorm and denied it in front of 10 witnesses, were brought to fruition at his next residence. He moved in with a group of good hearted, self-destructive misfits called "The Supreme Dicks."
The Dicks liked to bother other people by showing up uninvited at gatherings and playing loud sounds on electric instruments. They showed contempt for fellow students by organizing events meant to shock and outrage, such as a "spermathon" for South Africa. (Don't ask: read page 110.) The Dicks had a dark secret that was eventually uncovered by Rushfield: a suicide for which many people considered the Dicks responsible.
After two years of wild exploits and missed classes, the Dicks were being disbanded and Rushfield was close to expulsion. He did remain and went on to graduate with a degree in art history, mostly by attending classes at Smith and Amherst colleges. By graduation time, he had become more comfortable around the opposite sex and was off the radar screen of campus security.
Rushfield's memoir paints an unflattering view of life at Hampshire College in the late '80s. Post-epilogue, after Rushfield has sworn that the incidents in the book are essentially true, he offers this thanks to the college: "For all the rocky miles we've been down, you provided me the most memorable years of my life, years that made me who I am today, and without them, there would have been no memoir."
It is easy to picture him saying this with a bit of a sneer on his face.
Richard Rushfield will talk about his memoir Monday at 7 p.m. in the main lecture hall of Franklin Patterson Hall on the Hampshire College campus.
The Ottomans surrender Jerusalem to British forces, December 1917. It was a most welcome development for the Entente in the wake of the disasters of Passchendaele and Caporetto. In June, Prime Minister Lloyd George had asked General Allenby to "to take Jerusalem as a Christmas present for the nation." Allenby famously entered via the Jaffa Gate on foot, a gesture generally described as one of deference to Jesus, who had ridden a donkey, but in fact also a political one intended as (in Conor Cruise O'Brien's words) "a snub to the Kaiser, who had entered the Holy City nineteen years before, mounted on a white horse, under a triumphal arch."
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Early 1930s: two acquaintances trying desperately to leave Germany run into each other at the emigration office.First émigré: Where are you going?Second émigré: Shanghai.First émigré: What, so far?!Second émigré: Far—from where?
Monday, November 30, 2009
Although the vote no doubt reflects fears of extremism to some extent, it is also quite obviously also intended to be a “rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”. There is nothing intrinsically offensive about mosque architecture. Minarets do not symbolise the politics of Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. . . . .
This is a moment of disgrace for Switzerland. As the opposition campaign points out, this is the sort of attack on religious minorities, on the principle of freedom of religious expression – quite innocuous, architectural expression – that you would expect to see in a totalitarian state.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Exclusive:The Secret Palestinian Plan
Posted By Reena Ninan On November 14, 2009 @ 12:47 PM
A senior Palestinian official tells Fox News in the next few weeks the Palestinian Authority is planning to call for Palestinian statehood through a UN resolution-- a similar maneuver to that by which Israel was created. . . .
Uh, Dudes! It already happened, like . . . 60 years ago!November 29, 1947
The General Assembly, Having met in special session at the request of the mandatory Power to constitute and instruct a Special Committee to prepare for the consideration of the question of the future Government of Palestine at the second regular session;
. . . . . . . .
Considers that the present situation in Palestine is one which is likely to impair the general welfare and friendly relations among nations;
Takes note of the declaration by the mandatory Power that it plans to complete its evacuation of Palestine by l August 1948;
Recommends to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and implementation, with regard to the future Government of Palestine, of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union set out below. . . . . . . . . .Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, set forth in Part III of this Plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948.Did you, uh, miss something (like, you know, . . . a historic opportunity)?
Of course, it is a serious matter, especially given the current stalemate in peace talks and resultant posturing and grandstanding on both sides.
The report continued:
Both Palestinians and some Israelis believe that there is growing support in the international community for such a measure.
Asked to comment on the plan, an American official said that such a UN resolution, while not a cure-all, could be expanded upon eventually. Still, he added: "It's a measure that would make you feel good for five minutes. Then what?"
Palestinian officials predict the US would veto a UN resolution. If the resolution fails, senior Palestinian officials are considering completely dissolving the Palestinian Authority. That would leave the burden of running the West Bank to Israel--a policy that the Israeli government would be fearful of.
US tax payers pay $3 billion to aid Israel a year. If Palestinians hand the keys over to the Israelis more money will likely be needed to facilitate the occupation. The senior Palestinian official added once the Palestinian Authority is dismantled, Palestinians will push for a 'one state solution'-- ultimately making Israel no longer a Jewish state.
Obama said in Cairo that resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict is a US national strategic interest. It is in fact an international strategic interest. As such, it cannot be left to the veto of the Israelis and the Palestinians any longer. There is no chance that the Israelis and the Palestinians will reach any bilateral negotiated agreement, therefore it is not only a waste of time and precious energy on negotiating the negotiations, it is a waste of time to make efforts to bring the two parties to the table right now. They have serious homework to do before coming to the table, as do the leaders of the Quartet.
THE QUARTET, led by the US should:
1. Give the parties six months to present their own versions of a peace treaty taking into account all of the issues, needs, interests, threat perceptions and means for dealing with them.
2. Spend three months integrating the two treaties into the Quartet parameters. If there is no plan from one or both parties, the Quartet will still draw up its own plan.
3. An additional six months will be spent negotiating on the means to implement the plan. Differences between the parties will be resolved through bridging proposals put on the table by the Quartet.
4. The Quartet will make preparations for the creation of an international force led by the US (without US troops) containing a military, a policing and a civilian monitoring force (under the command of a US general) and with a US administration, with the participation of EU troops, Russians and others. The force will be stationed in the Palestinian state and will facilitate the Israeli withdrawal from Palestine and provide security guarantees for both states. Security can no longer be entrusted to bilateral arrangements as it was in the past. The security discourse must be advanced from the idea that Palestinians are providing security to Israel. This is rejected by both sides. The new discourse must be one of mutual security. There will be no security unless both sides feel secure from the threats of the other.
5. Even after Israeli withdrawal, there is a possibility that there will remain a law- abiding Jewish minority in the Palestinian state and this is a good development. The rights and treatment of the national minorities in each state should be linked to each other.
6. A UN Security Council resolution detailing the parameters of peace, of Palestinian and Israeli statehood and full Palestinian membership in the UN comes in at this stage.
7. The next Palestinian elections are held for the government of the state of Palestine and not for the Palestinian Authority.
8. The West Bank-Gaza link (tunnel, bridge, sunken road or a combination) will be constructed at this stage - as soon as possible and brought to about one kilometer of Gaza until there is a change in the political situation in Gaza. In any event, the peace treaty is based on the West Bank and Gaza, and will apply to Gaza as soon as possible.
9. The economic siege on Gaza must end because it is empowering Hamas and weakening the allies of peace.
There are many more details which must be included, but the space for this article is far too limited for that.
1. I support two-states, one Israel and one Palestine. As far as I am concerned, I can recognize Israel's "Jewish" character and Israelis should recognize Palestine's "non-Jewish" character.
2. I oppose violence of any kind from and by anyone. I reject Hamas' participation in any Palestinian government without first agreeing to surrender all arms and to accept two-states as a "final" peace agreement. But I also reject allowing Israeli settlers to carry any weapons and believe Israelis must impose the same restrictions on them.
3. I can support some settlements remaining - given the reality of 42 years of time passing - in a dunam-for-dunam land exchange. If Ariel is 500 dunams with a lifeline from Israel, then Israel gives Palestine 500 dunams in exchange.
4. Jerusalem should be a shared city and Palestinians should have an official presence in East Jerusalem. The Old City should be shared by both permitting open access to the city to all with a joint Palestinian-Israeli police presence.
5. Palestinian refugees would give up their demand to return to pre-1948 homes and lands lost during the conflict with Israel. Instead, some could apply for family reunification through Israel and the remainder would be compensated through a fund created and maintained by the United States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.
6. I also think Israelis should find it in their hearts to show compassion and offer their apologies to Palestinians for the conflict.
7. I support creation of a similar fund to compensate those Jews from Arab lands who lost their homes and lands, too, when they fled.
8. I think the Wall should be torn down, or relocated to the new borders. I have no problem separating the two nations for a short duration to help rebuild confidence between our two people.
9. All political parties, Palestinian and Israelis, should eliminate languages denying each other's existence, and all maps should be reprinted so that Israeli maps finally show Palestine and Palestinian maps finally show Israel.
10. A subway system should be built linking the West Bank portion of the Palestine state to the Gaza Strip portion of the Palestine State. Palestine should be permitted to build a seaport access to strengthen its industry, and an airport to permit flights and too and from the Arab and Israeli world.
11. I would urge the Arab World to renew their offer to normalize relations with Israel if Israel agrees to support the creation of a Palestinian State.
12. And I would ask both countries to establish embassies in each other's country to address other problems.
13. While non-Jewish Palestinians would continue to live in Israel as citizens, Jews who wish to live in settlements surrendered by Israel could become Palestinian citizens and they should be recognized and treated equally.
14. If Jews want to live in Hebron, they should be allowed to live in Hebron and should be protected, just as non-Jews. In fact, for every Jewish individual seeking to live in Palestine, a Palestinian should be permitted to live in Israel. In fact, major Palestinian populations in Israel could be annexed into Palestine (like settlements).
15. Another concept is to have non-Jews living in Israel continue to live there but only vote in Palestinian elections, while Jews living in Palestine would only vote in Israeli elections. A special citizenship protection committee could be created to explore how to protect the rights of minorities in each state.
16. Israel and Palestine should create joint-governing and security agencies working with the United States to monitor the peace, and establish an agency to pursue criminal acts of violence.
The conventional wisdom in much of the world holds that there is an Israeli-Arab peace settlement that is just out of reach - so near yet so far, frustrated only by tactical accidents. We all know what the peace settlement must look like, says the myth. If only Israel wasn't so stubborn about building in Jerusalem or (under Ehud Olmert) not negotiating at all about Jerusalem, there could be peace in a week. But somehow peace, like the lost tribes of Israel in the medieval Jewish myth, remains beyond reach, on the other side of the Sambatyon river . . .
What does the peace settlement look like? We all know, what the peace settlement would look like, don't we? It would look like the Clinton Bridging Proposals, or it would look like the Geneva Accord, or it might even look like the reasonable proposal of Palestinian-American comedian Ray Hanania.The myth, as he explains it, rests on a false assumption. All of the aforementioned bridging proposals posit: Palestinian relinquishment of the absolute right of return of all refugees and descendants; Israeli control over "some parts of Jerusalem beyond the 1949 armistice line"; each side's willingness to recognize the other's state as a national home. "The depressing fact is that all the polls of Palestinians and all the statements of the leaders and all the documents of the PLO and the Fatah have been fairly consistent in giving negative replies to all the issues." "The one ray of hope," he continues, is the belief that some surveys show popular Palestinian support for greater compromises. He goes on to show that the polls have been grossly misinterpreted because that supposed willingness is predicated on Israel's willingness to accept an absolute Palestinian right of return, which is a non-starter for the Jewish state.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Nonetheless, it is clear not only that autumn is here, but that winter is coming. Most of the leaves fell off the trees by Halloween. Many of us have taken advantage of the mild temperatures to stretch out the leaf clean-up task (between the occasional heavy rains, that is). While engaged in such activity last weekend, I came across another sure sign of fall: this large but austere cocoon
Friday, November 27, 2009
Can You Change In Time? Progress & Peril of Historic Sites
A one-day conference
Click here for the agenda.
December 3, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009 9 to 5 P.M.
at Trinity Lutheran Church,
73 Lancaster Street, Worcester, MA 01609
The state of historic house museums and sites has been a topic of increasing concern to professionals, volunteers, and community leaders for nearly a decade. Small budgets impacted by difficult financial times, level or diminishing visitation, and confusing stories herald the need for change — of message or mission. Is it time to change? Is there an alternative for your historic house/site?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
the story of the Pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving. When we look to how the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags maintained more than fifty years of peace and how that peace suddenly erupted into one of the deadliest wars ever fought on American soil, the history of Plymouth Colony becomes something altogether new, rich, troubling, and complex. Instead of the study we already know, it becomes the story we need to know (p. xii)
While we use the 'first Thanksgiving' as our point of departure, and consider the myths, familiar to millions of Americans. that have emerged concerning the 'Pilgrims,' we then look back to the events that led up to the settlement of Plymouth Colony and, more significantly, the years following that event through 1691, providing glimpses of life in the colony. These years are particularly important because to large numbers of people the early settlers sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, had a big dinner the following fall, and disappeared. In truth, Plymouth Colony has an ongoing story that is worth recounting in all its colorful detail, enlivened and expanded by contemporary archaeology, cultural research, and living history. (p. xv)
• Art Buchwald's classic attempt to explain Thanksgiving (le Jour de Merci Donnant) to the French: "Le Grande Thanksgiving"
• "Songs for Stuffing: A Thanksgiving Mix" (NPR)
• Morphed: From Dinosaur to Turkey (National Geographic)
• Proof that birds descended from dinosaurs (including the analysis of a roast turkey; from YouTube)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
You've Got (Hate) Mail! (and why this drivel isn't as far from mainstream discourse as you might hope)
I was trying to recall whether this is the first occasion on which I have received anonymous hate mail. Now that I stop to think about it, I guess I have, on a couple of occasions (obviously, I must not have paid it much attention), and it was standard neo-Nazi stuff.
This item reached me in late September, but more pressing matters kept me from posting about it. At any rate, I walked into the main office one day and found only one item in my mailbox. The battered and opened envelope, bearing both San Francisco and Springfield postmarks, had been sent to two other addresses—one of which incorrectly identified me as working at the University of Massachusetts—before reaching me at Hampshire.
It contained the usual pseudo-scientific Holocaust denial material, charging that eyewitness and subsequent accounts of the extermination process and sundry atrocities were implausible fabrications:
1) I evidently earned a place on this mailing list by virtue of teaching a course on antisemitism. NB: The official one-paragraph catalogue entry did not even mention the Holocaust by name. It did, however, include a reference to the contemporary Middle East. (The longer description of the course, which discussed both in a nuanced manner, was not even posted at the time.)
2) Unlike most such screeds, this one was written from a pseudo-left-wing perspective, for it connects US denazification efforts and purported disinformation with anti-communism and denounces the Holocaust as "a late-colonialist myth" whose only purpose in to justify Israeli expansionism and brutality:
What is not as obvious but in fact highly significant is that the anti-Israel rationale embodied in this form of Holocaust denial merely lies at the extreme end of a broad continuum of discourse—but a continuum nonetheless—that stretches well into the realm of respectability. Mind you, not all manifestations of the discourse are necessarily antisemitic. However, the extent to which this particular discourse of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel recapitulates or echoes classic antisemitic themes should give us pause. Designing and teaching my new course has provided a welcome opportunity to think through some of these issues. I’ll try just to sketch the rough parameters of the continuum here.
What unites the deniers and others on the fringe with many mainstream critics of Israel is the disturbing and increasing tendency to introduce references to the Holocaust into debate primarily in order to denounce the existence or actions of the state. There are several basic arguments, each of which has “hard” and “soft” variants.
Certainly, no right-thinking person would accept the hate-mailer’s claim that Zionists fabricated the story of the Holocaust in order to obtain their state. However, many otherwise decent and rational people readily assent to one of several arguments to the effect that Israel and its supporters illegitimately or excessively invoke the Holocaust in order to enrich the state, justify its policies, or shield it from criticism. The harder variants see this practice as deliberate or even quasi-conspiratorial in nature, whereas some of the softer ones regard it as an understandable but unacceptable reaction to historical trauma. By often charging that there is an attempt to silence debate, however, both may end up echoing classic antisemitic tropes regarding Jewish “power” and influence over government and media.
Whereas likening Israelis to Nazis was a practice once largely confined to the cruder “anti-Zionist” propaganda of the USSR and its clients, that taboo has vanished in the past two decades (just try googling "Zionazi" for a start). Even many people close to the mainstream no longer scruple at the comparison, which European, British, and US government bodies now include under definitions of potentially antisemitic discourse. Because the analogy can still generate controversy, however, some groups avoid it out of principle or pragmatism. Rather than invoking the Nazis, they speak of “ethnic cleansing" and "apartheid," which deliver almost as much anti-racist moral firepower, but lower risk of provocation and unintended injury to the user. The softest version is the claim that Israelis have failed to learn the “true” lessons of the Holocaust and cannot see that they have increasingly, although perhaps inadvertently, come to resemble their former oppressors. They, “of all people," we are told—apparently with sympathetic regret, but in fact with condescension—"should know better.” This reproach in fact recapitulates the venerable Christian anti-Judaic trope of Jewish "blindness" to the truth of their own history and tradition. As a result, this version is equally popular in the churches and among postmodern types who relish "irony."
Perhaps the newest argument involves a sort of buyer’s remorse that I have referred to as "the new discourse of regret": the idea that the world made a fateful mistake in creating the State of Israel. It is actually the most insidious argument because, even as it uniquely delegitimizes a member state of the United Nations, it appears to be the most humane and non-judgmental: we’re all victims. It begins by acknowledging that the shameful tradition of European antisemitism and world passivity in the face of Nazism led to the tragedy of the Holocaust. When the world then nobly sought to make amends by creating a Jewish state, it in fact acted precipitously and overcompensated for its own guilt, failing to recognize that it was doing an injustice to the Arabs. There’s plenty of victimhood to go around in this model: tragically, the Jews were in fact victimized twice, first by suffering genocide at the hands of the Nazis and then by being given a state that was doubly cursed because it both turned them into oppressors and thereby failed to bring them the promised permanent freedom from violence and hatred. The Palestinians are then the chief—and NB: only entirely blameless—victims, being forced simply to pay the price for the sins of the Europeans. And as for the Europeans and other outsiders, even they are in some sense really just victims of their own excess of empathy and good intentions. Now they can congratulate themselves on having seen the error of their ways, so that they are free both to wallow in their guilt and to revel in their new-found rectitude. It all sounds perfectly plausible and uplifting. I almost shed a tear myself.
None of this is to deny the legitimacy of even harsh criticism directed against Israel. The aforementioned studies on contemporary antisemitism all make that clear.
The point, rather, is that this is all bad history as well as bad politics. It manages to make several terrible mistakes at once.
• It trivializes the Holocaust by focusing exclusively (and superficially, at that) on its presumed consequences in isolation from its course and causes.
• Instrumentalizing the Holocaust in this manner—above and beyond the fact that this is precisely the mistake of which critics accuse Israel—thereby risks losing any real grasp of both the particular and the universal significance of the catastrophe, which must be understood as a properly historical phenomenon in its own right.
• The fact that the Holocaust, of all things, is now used so frequently as a club with which to beat the Jewish state should set off alarm bells. It betokens a casting off of inhibitions and thus erodes the barrier against open antisemitism.
• The association between the Holocaust and the creation of Israel—or better: Palestine Partition, for we should remind ourselves that the actual UN vote foresaw creation of two states, Arab and Jewish—was genuine, but complex: antisemitism, Zionism, Arab nationalism. and the “question of Palestine” all existed well before 1947. To reduce the tragic Arab-Israeli conflict to a botched quick fix of a mess arising from the Holocaust is to distort the past in ways that make solving the problems of the present all the more difficult.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Q: What’s the difference between BDS and homeopathy?
A: Not much, actually. Both are frauds that are led by scoundrels, attract the naïve, and have yet to produce any verifiable result, much less, the promised benefit for suffering humanity.
The bad news:
• It’s embarrassing that my college, which takes justifiable pride in its rigorous and innovative science pedagogy, could open its facilities to a pseudo-scientific movement that has absolutely no clinical validity.The good news:
• It’s embarrassing that my college, which purports to "emphasize comparative, historical, and interdisciplinary approaches and encourage critical reflection from multiple perspectives," could host an event whose organizers display such an abysmally oversimplified view of history (compare with this far more nuanced version) and indeed disdain both critical reflection on their own enterprise and the multiple perspectives that others could offer in dialogue.
1) The College as an institution does not support either fraud. It rents out its space to outside groups who will pay the fee, and it allows campus organizations to hold their own events.
2) No one takes this stuff seriously anyway.
The great moment has finally arrived. The gestation period is over.
Just over nine months have passed since the BDS movement triumphantly announced its penetration of the power structures of Hampshire College. As we indicated at the outset and others soon realized, this was in fact idle and impotent boasting rather than date rape (though each scenario is unappetizing in its way; that should tell you something).
Still, let’s take them at their word. Assuming we really can accept paternity (a big "if"), just what did these cocky folks produce?
Well, okay, if you say so. But is there some yardstick by which we measure "giant"? Let's take a look at the prodigious progeny.
Much of the conference consisted (aside from a few pep-rally-type events) of, well, reports of various local efforts, without, well, any particular effects. It further consisted in promoting a mixture of Quixotic master goals (make universities and monster academic pension fund CREF divest; this, although the effort failed at Hampshire, which has practically no endowment at stake) and (more sub rosa) small-scale guerilla actions that fall somewhere between the juvenile and the illegal: e.g. “de-shelve” Israeli products ( ) in stores. Not exactly the stuff of which Che Guevara was made.
From premature climax to anticlimax: that pretty much sums it up.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
are now well known. Our local festivities were restricted to a small circle, but we valued it all the more. Our host provided the food and drink. His only requirement was that all the guests perform a work of music in the manner of their choosing, as best they could—and "leave their diffidence at home." All were welcome, amateur and professional alike, but no one could judge, and no one could apologize. It was a fine model of open-minded and egalitarian interaction, and I often have occasion to remember it in other contexts.